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THE PRICE OF ARROGANCE

By Sanjay Jha

Wherever Lalit Modi is currently holidaying or absconding , his smirk must be of a sizeable magnitude. After all the brouhaha and chest-beating after India’s woebegone collapse against England in the just concluded Test series, if you saw the crowds at Mumbai and Pune for the two-match T20 series, one would have thought that the Indian public has a real warm charitable disposition. In less than a few days, the ignominy of Test defeat was cursorily forgotten, as the Men in Fluorescent Blue came like the knight in shining armor to seize the midnight hour. Crowds danced with kinetic abandon, sixes were hit with brute power, and it took just four overs in two separate matches to discover that Yuvraj Singh is a wilier bowler than R Ashwin and Piyush Chawla put together and multiplied by four, at least in this lingerie format of the game. And he does not even have a carom or marble-ball or whatever. Skipper MS Dhoni’s agonizing nightmare at Nagpur ended with a an abruptness that might have left him shaking his head in acute disbelief. But suddenly hosannas poured in after the first T20 win against England , and you would not be blamed for hallucinating. If through an inadvertent misadventure TV commentator Sanjay Manjrekar also let us know some uncomfortable truths about the BCCI pay-roll for the idiot box experts , well then , perhaps that was part of the package deal as well. Cricket is entertaining in India, on the field, but more, off it.

Sachin Tendulkar bowled

By the time you read this,  India will be having its own version of the Boxing Day series, and one which invariably is awaited with the ultimate cricket cliché, “ breathless expectation”. Indeed! Pakistan has already arrived on Indian shores, and since time is money, things like acclimatization etc are at a hefty discount. Before you can say Jimmy Amarnath, the tantalizing drama will unfold over some Christmas pudding . Hopefully, India won’t serve its innumerable star-struck fans a turkey this time round, because the hugely emotional, mercurial, hypersensitive fan can endure the traumatic experience of losing to England, but Pakistan is an altogether different proposition. I am sure the canny survivors that the Men in Blue are, they have figured this out, as has MSD. Defeat Pakistan in the T20 and  ODI’s and within  those five electrifying games, the excruciating torture and unending scrutiny of the team  that started since June in England 2011 (  despite some anodyne triumphs in between )  and which continued unabated will come to a dramatic end.  That’s why Modi must be guffawing somewhere . But the intriguing question is where does Indian cricket go from here?  After all the fizz  are we facing a fritz? To understand and answer that, we need to rewind the tape a wee bit.

Nothing hurts more than sloppy planning, it is worse if accentuated by arrogance. India’s abject England tour was a disaster awaiting a formal inauguration; tired and exhausted limbs, some partially broken, others wholly distracted by IPL Friday Night Lights and the remaining lacking adequate preparation. From the moment Zaheer Khan hobbled, and Dhoni became the ingeniously concealed weapon of fiery bowling India’s precipitous nosedive had begun. It was unalloyed mental disintegration from thereon, manifested in the heartless destruction by a resolute England team. A hurriedly flown in master blaster  Virender Sehwag , expected to be our messiah, scored a hat-trick of ducks.  We lost in Tests, T20 and ODI’s, the quintessential whitewash. Before the tour, our over-confidence had reached epic proportions, our singular obsession being; Sachin ka century Lords me banega ya nahin???

If the script went completely awry in Australia , supposedly the “ weakest Australian Team ever” , it was once again on account of  our languid state of mind, pregnant within a framework of lassitude. Or perhaps we were momentarily transported into paradise by the buccaneering spirit of Sehwag who had in the interim pulverized the visiting West Indies by scoring 219 in a ODI match in Indore  thereby overtaking Tendulkar’s record Gwalior feat. We won the Test series too, but anyone who saw the last Test at Mumbai against the Windies would have known that India was perceptibly enervated, and had failed to smother a second-rate team displaying impeccable spunk. The writing was on the wall for sure, but someone has to read it, right? Usually, we are too busy in those Oakley glittering glares to notice. As for the BCCI, they can be excused because they suffer from a congenital optical defect.  To beard the lion in its own den, even if the king is a wounded one, requires self-belief, hunger, fitness, intent, team-work. In competitive international sports, a cakewalk does not mean voluntary submission  by a compliant adversary, usually you have to asphyxiate a fighting foe. Instead, we were subsumed by a rejuvenated Australian team and the Oz tour became an extended version of Misery-Part-I I !

The retirement of The Great Wall Rahul Dravid and the dependable VVS Laxman that followed went relatively unnoticed , hardly surprising because in India,  the moment you are no longer in the playing eleven,  have lost commercial clout or media value you are dropped like a hot potato. Moreover, there was unanimous agreement that the irrepressible if occasionally impertinent Virat Kohli was the “ next  middle-order great”. A not-so-flattering triumph over New Zealand was further corroboration of India’s rising fragility in Test cricket, but in a statistically-obsessed nation revering personality cut-outs, dispassionate analysis and introspection is considered passé. Then came England. And I think I dare not repeat the whole lachrymose tale as the end of the year is not an appropriate time for shedding tears. So where are we headed as 2013 comes close to smooching distance?

For one, let us recognize that we were beaten by a superbly talented team in England , determined to make the once formidable Final Frontier look like a crumbling boundary wall , left completely unguarded, with a shining billboard saying “ Visitors, Most Welcome”. I found the exaggerated emotional devastation over losing on “ home soil” pseudo-patriotic. Even Manoj Kumar would have winced at this surprised indignation “ On our own home soil, we lost??? .The English made themselves promptly at home after an initial hiccup at Ahmedabad. Expectedly, every veteran ex-cricketer “ expert” wanted MSD’s head, including surprise surprise  that foxy fellow called K Srikanth. But the fact is that you cannot cure a headache by cutting the head off. Of course, no one  including the great Sunil Gavaskar believes that the IPL, with its prodigious focus on curious pyrotechnics on the field , has had any negative repercussions on the players. Wrong. It has! While it will be apocryphal to blame IPL altogether, to ignore it’s harmful consequences will be downright disingenuous too. The ICC is virtually the foreign office of BCCI, and albeit it has not given IPL a “ window”, it has left the door wide ajar, unofficially, of course.

It is one thing for technically perfect players like Dravid, Sachin, Sourav Ganguly etc to temporarily abandon their usual predilections for perfection for a summer of  hedonism , altogether another to expect Rohit Sharma, Ravinder Jadeja, Suresh Raina etc to graduate from IPL to the big boy’s club of Test cricket. India heads for a turbulent transition, and some testing times. If we don’t immediately correct our bad habits, India’s dry spell in Test cricket might enter into a long dull Saharan stretch.

Thus, my following 7 prescriptions:

1) India must create separate teams for Tests, ODIs and T 20. Currently, there is a huge overlap, and while versatile talent like Dhoni, Kohli, Ashwin etc  may play in all formats,  the selectors need to do some talent-hunt and create specialists. This will reduce mental exhaustion, burnout and intermittent injuries.

2) We must play more Test cricket abroad, and nix the propensity to play the shorter format of the game as a trade-off with Tests in our schedule

3) The IPL, now an irreversible reality  ,  should be restricted to a maximum of 5 weeks in a year

4) BCCI needs to have a “ performance contract “ for the coach, and there is a need for specialist coaches for bowling, batting, fielding and psychological and mental fitness. We need to focus on not just finding good fast bowlers, but grooming them for a longer career

5) Experienced cricketers should be appointed as “ mentors” to the young talent . they should be compensated handsomely and trained for coaching the tyros.

6) It must be made mandatory for all contracted players to play domestic cricket , and the scheduling must permit that.

7) The selectors should appoint teams for a whole series, and not make changes mid-way as it can be an unsettling factor

Lalit Modi , in his halcyon days of hallucinatory hubris had once said. “ IPL is recession-proof”. He has been proven wrong. In my book 11—Triumph, Trials and Turbulence, Indian Cricket 2003-10, I had written, “ There is nothing possibly more frightening than swollen –headed soothsayers indulging in brazen power-play and high monetary stakes, cocooned in the insouciant comfort of political patronage. It breeds hubris and inflated egos to the point of being insufferable, their gross exploitation of the great game of cricket going essentially unchallenged”.

Modi might still be smiling somewhere , but if we correct our errant ways, Indian cricket can still have the last laugh.

Sanjay Jha is Founder, CricketNext.com, a regular columnist and author of 11—Triumph,  Trials and Turbulence, Indian Cricket 2003-10

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